Safety Analysis Flaws Plague Los Alamos TRU Waste Handing Facility

Safety Analysis Flaws Plague Los Alamos TRU Waste Handing Facility

The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB) believes that the Radioassay and Nondestructive Testing (RANT) Shipping Facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory must resolve safety issues prior to resuming operations. The DNFSB staff review team identified “significant flaws” in hazard and accident analyses.

The RANT Shipping Facility is used to load transuranic (TRU) waste, typically either waste drums or standard waste boxes, into TRUPACT shipping containers. This facility supports the LANL TRU program and will be used long-term. The RANT Shipping Facility is currently in standby with no TRU waste present, pending the resumption of TRU waste shipments.

In November 2013, the contractor, LANS, submitted a new safety analysis, called a Documented Safety Analysis (DSA), to DOE oversight officials at the Los Alamos Field Office (LAFO) for approval. In February 2014, WIPP was shut down due to a radiation leak in the underground. It is believed that wheat-based kitty litter was mixed with nitrate salts in a transuranic waste drum as it was processed at Los Alamos that potentially caused the reaction that breached the container. In July 2014, LAFO completed its review of the RANT DSA and noted only four actions needed.

The DNFSB staff reviewed the DSA and identified significant weaknesses in the hazard analysis (HA), accident analysis, and safety controls. The review revealed inadequate identification and implementation of safety controls to protect the public and workers.

The DNFSB report found that LANS and LAFO underestimated consequences from potential crane failure accidents, seismic events, and fires. Underestimating possible consequences like these can lead to increased radiologic releases to the environment.

Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board Staff Issue Report September 29, 2014

Below is a Google Earth image of the RANT facility. Notice the 8 TRUPACT trailers with three round TRUPACT containers each on them.

NNSA Considers Stuffing More Plutonium Into New Facility

Despite the fact that no one has come up with a good reason to increase plutonium pit production for the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile, officials want to study the possibility of radically increasing the amount of plutonium allowed in a recently completed laboratory at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The Deputy Administrator for National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Defense Programs, Don Cook, has requested an analysis to increase the radioactive materials inventory in the recently completed Radiological Laboratory Utility Office Building (RLUOB) to up to 400 grams of plutonium-239, the isotope used in nuclear weapons. The RLUOB, which originally was limited to 8.4 grams of Pu 239, was built as Phase 1 of the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Project at LANL that would have expanded plutonium pit production to 50 – 80 pits per year (pits are the radioactive cores of nuclear weapons). LANL’s current capacity is 20 pits per year. Phase 2 of the CMRR project, the “Nuclear Facility,” was canceled because of lack of clear need and a bulging ten-fold increase in costs.

This RLUOB, along with some floor space in the existing Plutonium Facility (PF-4), will replace the old Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Building, which is slated for closure in 2019. The Laboratory was working on a plutonium strategy to move out of CMR and maintain the current plutonium capability.

But NNSA recently increased the maximum amount of radiological materials allowed in the RLOUB, and all “radiological” facilities, from 8.4 grams to 38.6 grams. Internal Lab documents floated plans that could have increased the limit again by two or three times by treating each little laboratory in the RLUOB as its own radiological facility. This could have increased the limit to 115.8 grams of Pu239.

But NNSA apparently wants to go big. The new analysis is to consider the RLUOB as a Hazard Category 3 nuclear facility, which is a huge step up from its current designation as a radiological facility.

Scott Kovac, Research and Operations Director for Nuclear Watch New Mexico, said, “This turkey of a plan is stuffed with bad ideas – The RLUOB is not seismically qualified for that amount of plutonium. A new supplemental environmental impact statement will be needed. There is no need for more plutonium pits, except for new nuclear weapons, because they last for around 100 years and nuclear weapons stockpiles are decreasing. And apparently LANL can’t safely handle plutonium anyway, as major operations with plutonium have been paused since June 2013 because of nuclear criticality safety issues. Finally, it was LANL’s improper handling of plutonium waste that contaminated 21 workers at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, causing it to close with at least a half billion dollars in costs to reopen. We say no to more plutonium at Los Alamos!”

# # #

Read the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board report here.


LANL Heading Down Slippery Slope With Proposed Biosafety Lab

The DOE Inspector General released Audit Report on “Management of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Biosafety Laboratories” that calls for a re-evaluation of the proposed needs for Biolabs at nuclear weapons facilities such as Los Alamos.

The report stated that Los Alamos National Laboratory was considering a $9.5 million expansion of bio-laboratory capabilities even though the Lab could not assess current usage or future needs. Apparently the Lab based facility-planning decisions on perceptions about future demand.

From the report –

[DOE] identified the development of a BSL-3 facility at LANL as its preferred alternative for meeting biosafety laboratory needs even though it had not fully considered the need for and cost effectiveness of additional capacity. Nor, had it developed a sound basis for measuring the utilization of existing facilities – a critical factor in determining the need for additional capacity.

Biological containment levels range from BSL-1, which handles only agents not known to cause illness in humans, to BSL-4, which houses agents for which there are no known cures, such as Ebola. A BSL-3 designation permits work with virulent pathogens used in both defensive and offensive biological warfare research.

Although the BSL-3 building has been constructed, the need is very questionable. From the report –

Specifically, we contacted two of the three Federal agencies that LANL told us were prospective [Work For Other] WFO customers and officials representing those potential customers stated that they did not have any specific plans to contract for BSL-3 research at LANL. Further, officials at both agencies indicated that other existing BSL-3 facilities could satisfactorily meet their needs. In fact, one official told us that generally other existing BSL-3 laboratories were less expensive than expected at the new LANL facility and that several had comparable security.

While the BSL-3 building has been constructed, there is no compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).  The draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) currently being prepared for BSL-3 facility operations pursuant to NEPA has not even been released, much less a final EIS or Record of Decision (ROD).  The current schedule calls for the EIS to be released in August 2014, but if past schedule changes are indications, it is not going to happen.

The draft EIS has been in process for nine years and counting. We at NukeWatch demand that DOE start over and re-scope both the alternatives and need for the BSL-3 at LANL. LANL is working on a Biological Research Capability Assessment to assess bioscience needs, which must be completed before the BSL-3 is re-scoped.

We hope the current Assessment is more empirical than the 2011 Review, which proposed that the BSL-3 facility was essential to LANL’s mission without considering data such as available capacity at other locations and estimates of projected use from outside customers.

The LANL BSL-3 EIS was the result of a lawsuit. During 2001 and 2002 NukeWatch contested the arbitrary and capricious public process DOE was using to justify its decision to build the proposed BSL-3 facilities at LANL and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). DOE failed to adequately address the many concerns raised by the public and proceeded to release final Environmental Assessments (EAs) for both laboratories, along with so-called Findings of No Significant Impact, which gives the Department the green light to begin the first steps leading to operations. Because DOE left so many legitimate questions and concerns unanswered, NukeWatch felt that a legal challenge was necessary.

In August 2003 NukeWatch and Tri-Valley CAREs, a citizens group based in Livermore, CA, jointly filed a lawsuit in the federal district court of northern California claiming that DOE had failed to fully analyze the environmental and health risks associated with the proposed operation of its BSL-3 facilities at LANL and LLNL. In effect, DOE wrote itself a blank check for a wide range of infectious disease research at the two labs. NukeWatch and Tri-Valley CAREs argued that DOE failed to consider the grave risks of introducing pathogens whose behavior may not be known or understood, and for which a cure may not exist.

In January 2004, DOE announced that it had revoked approval for its newly constructed, advanced bio-warfare agent research facility at Los Alamos. DOE went back to square one, and reviewed whether the agency needed to undertake a full Environmental Impact Statement – a key demand in the lawsuit. The BSL-3 at LLNL was built and is operating.

DOE released a notice for the LANL EIS on November 29, 2005. The Notice of Intent to prepare an EIS for the BSL-3 stated that one reason requiring preparation of an EIS was that “it was necessary to conduct additional seismic analysis of the location of the building on fill material on the sloping side of a canyon.” This calls into question not just whether BSL-3 activities can be safely conducted before these issues are resolved through the EIS, but whether any operations can be safely conducted at all.

The drawing below shows the LANL BSL-3 built in a seismic zone, on fill, and on a steep slope.

Review of the Stability Analysis for the LANL BSL-3 Building Foundation, UCRL-TR-226737, November 2, 2006

The DOE-IG report stated that LANL would need to spend about $437,000 in upgrades to attempt to mitigate this seismic concern.  DOE also is spending about $478,000 to complete the now required Environmental Impact Statement

Another $595,000 is needed to open the facility, which includes $368,000 of operating costs for maintenance, utilities, etc.

Can the Laboratory be the best place for bioscience? If the Lab is looking for more funding streams, shouldn’t it be directing its attention to non-proliferation programs and cleanup?


Santa Fe Mayor Calls to Not Allow the Creation of a Permanent Nuclear Waste Dump at Los Alamos

Santa Fe Mayor Calls to Not Allow the Creation of a Permanent Nuclear Waste Dump at Los Alamos

Santa Fe, NM – Nuclear Watch New Mexico applauds the demand by the Mayor of Santa Fe that the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) not rule out alternatives to their so-called “cleanup” plan for Area G, the Lab’s largest radioactive waste dump. LANL plans to “cap and cover” and permanently leave one million cubic meters of radioactive and hazardous wastes buried forever.

Mayor David Coss will ask the Santa Fe City Council to approve his resolution to seek real cleanup alternatives at their December 11th meeting. Mayor Coss is also chairman of the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities that lobbies Congress for increased Lab funding. Yesterday he introduced his resolution to the Regional Coalition as well.

LANL is relying on their own outrageous estimate of $29 billion for removal of the waste at Area G as a rationale to leave the waste in place. Nuclear Watch has performed a cost comparison that compares the Lab’s estimate on a recent cleanup actually performed by the Lab and also to another Laboratory estimate. Our cost comparison shows that removal of the waste could actually cost less than $6 billion. The Lab’s preference is to cap and cover and leave the waste in place at Area G.

Scott Kovac, NukeWatch Program Director, commented, “LANL should quit playing games that cap and cover somehow represents genuine cleanup. For the same price as 5 years’ worth of nuclear weapons work that caused this mess to begin with, Area G could be fully cleaned up. I echo the Mayor’s words that this could be a real win-win for New Mexicans, permanently protecting groundwater and the Rio Grande while creating hundreds of long-term high-paying jobs. I call on other local governments and everyone to pick up the Santa Fe Mayor’s challenge.”

# # #

Read the Santa Fe Mayor’s press release
Read the Santa Fe City Resolution
Read Nuclear Watch’s cost comparison here and Area G fact sheet

The Corporate Folly of Nuclear Power

Meltdowns at the reactors are not the biggest threat, as horrific as they are. Instead the biggest threat is the spent fuel rod pools if they lose circulating water.

The reactors at Fukushima were designed by US General Electric, whose corporate slogan is “bringing good things to life.” The Fukushima reactors had their back up diesel generators at ground level, hence a few feet above sea level, and their spent fuel pools on the “top deck” of the reactor buildings, the equivalent of 3-4 stories up. When the earthquake knocked out the electric power required to circulate absolutely essential liquid coolant the diesel generators kicked in as designed. So far so good.

But then the diesel generators were wiped out 55 minutes later by the tsunami (duh!, the Fukushima nuclear power complex is right on the coast – didn’t the “experts” think of that?). The resulting lack of circulating water has precipitated this crisis that is now on the verge of being an unprecedented catastrophe. A spent fuel rod fire can release far more radioactivity than Chernobyl (see below).

The pathetic irony is that to prevent this catastrophe Tokyo Electric MUST get circulating water UP to the spent fuel rod pools because the diesel generators were swamped DOWN below. The placement of the generators and the waste pools relative to each other was exactly and tragically back *sswards. Do not trust “EXPERTS!,” meaning that citizen activism is always required. IT IS A MUST!

I shun hysteria, but this situation is way serious, it could really get out of control. Pray for the Japanese people, already the victims of history’s only two (so far) atomic attacks. If the fuel rods go count this as the 3rd attack, albeit self-inflicted. Nuclear operations require perfect human operation 24/7/eternity (i.e., as long as we run them). Humans are fallible, and nature can shrug us off like flies.

Get rid of nukes, period (except medicine). It takes only once on the balance sheet to wipe out any potential benefits, and indebt seven future generations environmentally, economically, politically and genetically all at the same time. It’s NOT worth it.

To end on a cheery note (not!): “As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods. They kill us for their sport.” Shakespeare’s King Lear, 4. 1. The gods may do what they want, but don’t let international corporate nuclear power interests kill us. Fight back!

Mother Earth Gives Nuclear Renaissance a Black Eye

Our hearts and prayers go out go out to the people of Japan.

As Japan is faced with the possibility of nuclear meltdowns in five earthquake-damaged nuclear reactors, the U.S. and other countries are re-considering nuclear plans. While it is unlikely that radiation that has leaked or will leak from the Japanese reactor accidents will reach the United States.  This could change if there is an explosion and/or fire affecting one or more of the reactor cores or spent fuel pools. The accident at Chernobyl (25th anniversary is April 26th) affected the entire Northern Hemisphere because of a massive explosion in the core, and an out-of-control fire that burned for days.  This same scenario is unlikely in Japan. But reactors have been damaged beyond repair and old questions are being raised again.

In the U.S., Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Democratic Rep. Ed Markey of Massachusetts have made statements – “But I think we’ve got to kind of quietly put, quickly put, the brakes on until we can absorb what has happened in Japan as a result of the earthquake and the tsunami and then see what more, if anything, we can demand of the new power plants that are coming on line,” Lieberman stated. “Any plant that is being considered for a seismically vulnerable area in the United States should be reconsidered right now,” Markey said, adding that the Japanese earthquake registering 8.9 in magnitude was “a hundred times greater in intensity” than the level that U.S. plants are built to withstand.

Countries in Europe are pausing to re-consider, also. Japan’s nuclear emergency Monday prompted Germany and Switzerland to halt nuclear programmes as anxious Europe scrambled to review cross-border safety while safeguarding the powerful industry. More

Why were the Fukushima reactors at sea level? Japan’s nuclear accident exposes the dilemma of whether to build power plants on tsunami-prone coasts or inland sites where water supplies are unreliable, a problem likely to be aggravated by climate change, experts say. (More from Reuters)

What happened at the Fukushima plant? “Three of its six reactors were in operation when the earthquake hit. The reactors — which went into service between 1970 and 1979 — are designed to shut down automatically when a quake strikes, and emergency diesel generators began the task of pumping water around the reactors to cool them down. However, these stopped about an hour later. The failure of the back-up generators has been blamed on tsunami flooding by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).” More –

This event shows how Mother Earth can have her way with the best-made plans. The power company said that that 7.9 was the highest magnitude for which they tested the safety for their No. 1 and No. 2 nuclear power plants in Fukushima. The original magnitude was estimated to be 8.9, which would have been 10 ten times the magnitude 7.9 that the structures were tested for. The Japan Meteorological Agency up-rated Friday’s earthquake to 9.0 on the Richter scale, meaning that it was twice as powerful as initially thought. More

Here at home, we have no commercial reactors in New Mexico, but there are national nuclear weapons facilities, including Los Alamos National Laboratory, which currently has plans for a $5 billion addition to the Lab’s plutonium weapons production complex. This addition, called the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement project Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF) is being designed to survive a 7.0 magnitude earthquake without releasing plutonium.  Much of the estimated cost is to seismically qualify the CMRR-NF to be built on the fault-ridden Pajarito Plateau. The plans call for a storage vault with the capacity of six metric tons of radioactive materials, such as plutonium.

Now would be a good time to re-consider any plans that make us feel invincible.


Scroll to top